16 days ago, Chris Mack left Xavier for Louisville. Fans were plunged from a Big East championship directly into an offseason now fraught with uncertainty. No head coach, no guarantees from anyone on the roster, and the almost immediate loss of Evan Boudreaux had Xavier Nation on the precipice. The winningest coach in program history was leaving, and he was taking a lot of his staff with him. Vultures in the form of jealous fans from across town circled.
Fast forward to today. Travis Steele is the new head coach and he blew everyone away with a press conference of measured confidence. He promised in his presser to hit the recruiting trail the next day. True to his word, he landed Zach Hankins, the Division II player of the year the very next day. Then he added Kyle Castlin from Columbia, an incredibly efficient scorer who excels on the defensive end. Not content with that, Steele brought in Ryan Welage, a pure scorer, from San Jose State just yesterday.
That’s not all, either. In the last 16 days Xavier has restocked the coaching staff with highly touted big man coach Jonas Hayes, who position coached the SEC player of the year at Georgia, and another well regarded recruiter and guards coach in Ben Johnson from Minnesota. Steele also played a role in retaining Xavier’s vital infrastructure. Matt Jennings remained on as strength coach, Jeremy Growe held his position and may yet become an assistant coach, and most importantly, the man who makes it all tick, Mario Mercurio, stayed on as Director of Basketball Administration.
That complete overhaul has give Xavier fans plenty of reasons to look forward to the coming season. All of the incoming recruits pledged to stay with the team, as did everyone currently on the roster. This caused Rob Dauster to put Xavier immediately in his top 25 for next year, even before the addition of Welage. With one spot still open and Xavier still in on many big name available transfers, the good news may keep coming.
All of that objective data doesn’t convey the depth of the feeling that has been given to a reeling fanbase. Just over two weeks ago, Musketeers fans were adrift without a coach and most of a staff. Now, it’s impossible to get on Twitter without seeing the optimism coming off almost everyone. No, replacing Trevon Bluiett, JP Macura, Kerem Kanter, and Sean O’Mara won’t be easy but, after this incredible opening salvo, does anyone doubt that Steele is the man for the job?
It’s not just in what is arriving where Xavier fans can find hope. Steele singled out Elias Harden as a difference maker next year. Paul Scruggs figures to continue his second half rise where he clearly demonstrated he can more than hold his own at this level. Naji Marshall has all the makings of a star. Quentin Goodin is now the best point guard in the Big East. Kaiser Gates brings back his blend of potentially game breaking talent. If all that wasn’t enough, Xavier’s best rebounder and junkyard dog Tyrique Jones will also be back with his award winning mean mug and ability to shut down any opposing post. This is a team that was already rife with talent.
So, impossible as it seemed on a cold March morning 16 days ago, there’s already plenty of reasons to be excited for November. Xavier basketball no longer rebuilds, it reloads and prepares to defend Big East titles.